What Kobe Bryant Can Teach Swimmers About Having a Legendary Mindset

Michael Butler
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Don’t shy away from improving.

It’s challenging to improve when you’re not even sure of what you’re doing to begin with. I’m not talking about your technical skills but rather the mental aspect of swimming.

I often think of greatness as the layers of knowledge surrounding a technique. There are layers within layers within layers. I use to believe that great swimmers know more than me when in reality they only know more than me about a certain part of the technique.

Although we know more on an intellectual level today than when Michael Phelps raced for his first gold medal in the Olympics, it’s still challenging to improve. You want to improve. You want to become the best swimmer you’ve ever been.

One of the biggest reasons athletes don’t achieve greatness is because of their mindset. This mindset keeps you from trying new things and not reaching your potential.

If you want to make progress, you have to be willing to do things that are uncomfortable. You have to take that leap of faith and try new things. If you’re willing to do that, you’ll constantly seek ways to improve your swimming. And when you discover something new, the journey begins again.

Working your hardest is a reward unto itself.

Kobe Bryant is arguably one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Yet we rarely think of him as the next Michael Jordan or LeBron James. Instead, we remember Bryant for his killer competitive mindset – one that fueled him to a host of accolades and helped make him the greatest player of his generation.

It’s hard to imagine that one of the best athletes of all time spent much of his youth being a sub-par talent. Bryant believes that his low self-esteem and self-doubt made him work harder.

“I wasn’t much better than anyone else, but I outworked everyone else every single day,” Bryant once said. “People always said I worked harder than everyone else, and for the most part it was probably true. That’s how I got better than everyone else.”

Bryant struggled to feel good about himself and used repeated reinforcement for the hard work that he put in to become an elite athlete. His self-confidence was earned through his commitment to the improvement practice.

Understand what you need to feel to perform your best.

Kobe Bryant is considered one of the best basketball players of all time. His 2 Week Black Mamba—a title given by ESPN’s Podcast to the second part of his 2015-16 season—tallied an incredible ten three-pointers in a single game. To put it into perspective, only four players in history have ever recorded a three-pointer after their 40th birthday.

But it was much more than that. Bryant finished the season with a mind-blowing 81 points in his final game with 50% shooting from the field, 50% from three-point range, and 100% from the free-throw line. If you’re wondering what that’s like, try to remember your last free throw that you made without any reservations toward the basket.

Thinking about his last NBA game is one way to look at the great Kobe Bryant. But I want to tell you a different story, one few people know about. It’s a story about how Kobe stays so focused on his goals, even when it means making sacrifices.

Be about your greatness every day.

There are only a handful of humans who can claim to be legendary. To be considered a legendary athlete (think Michael Jordan) or performer (think Elvis Presley) doesn’t come easy. These kinds of accomplishments are a product of years of hard work, and often, just a few unique and special qualities about the person as a whole.

Kobe Bryant is one of these rare people. His hard work and determination have allowed him to reach legendary status not just in basketball, but in the entire sports world.

While Bryant will be remembered for his skills on the court, what is often overlooked is his brilliance off the court. It takes a degree of confidence to be consistent with your greatness day in and day out. But Bryant does just that.

Build a process you believe in, and then defend it.

Kobe Bryant is a legendary basketball player and one of the top players of all time. Throughout his legendary career, he’s faced criticism, adversity, and intense media coverage.

Through it all, he’s been able to hold on to his commitment to being the best.

He’s been criticized in the past for his obsessive practice routine, his willingness to accept any challenge, and his refusal to back down or make excuses. Some people might call it stubbornness or ego. But if you think about it, it’s really just a level of conviction and commitment that not just anybody can have.

When you refuse to change your process regardless of the circumstances, it increases the probability of success. It’s harder to succeed in sports when you have many options, but it’s easier to have a great outcome when you have total buy-in from yourself.

There are people who have failed many times before becoming successful. But they took the time to refine their process until they believed in it. From then on, they refused to think about failure.

You can achieve something great in your own life by having a relentless desire to do the right thing, staying true to your process, and refusing to change no matter how bad the situation might be.

Excellence is boring

When Kobe Bryant announced his retirement in 2016, he said something unexpected. In a press conference, he started to list the reasons why he’s retiring: a torn Achilles tendon that sidelined him for 17 months, knee pain after multiple surgeries, and the weakening effectiveness of his skillset.

His words would make him sound like a basketball loser, a baller whose body couldn’t keep up beyond a certain point.

Instead, they made him sound like a champion. The difference is that a traditional “loser” would make an excuse for what he’s done and continue to live life by his mistakes. A champ, on the other hand, doesn’t think like that.

To Kobe, it was more important to have the strength to stop playing when he thought he couldn’t play anymore even if that was before the game. He didn’t want to play by someone else’s rules of what makes a legend, of what makes a story about his name. He walked away from the game because he knew that it was time to go. And that’s what made him a winner.

Mastering the fundamentals is the new shortcut.

Throughout the history of sports, there have always been legendary athletes who did not train the way most of us do. They had something extra that separated them from the rest of the pack, and it was not because of their superior genetics or luckier upbringing.

Kobe Bryant is a basketball legend and one of the most famous athletes to ever play the game. As he approached the end of his career in 2016, I was inspired by Kobe’s recent book, The Mamba Mentality, which was an educational look at how he prepared to become one of the greatest.

I was amazed by Kobe’s story, which was filled with mental anecdotes that helped him master the fundamentals of basketball. He trained his mind to overcome the emotions of self-doubt, hesitation, worry, and fear.

I don’t consider myself a Kobe Bryant “fan” (or any athlete “fan” for that matter); but as an athlete who visualizes my goals and relies on mental training to get my body in shape to achieve them, I am a huge fan of Kobe’s story and his Mamba Mentality.

Moments of failure are opportunities for growth.

I don’t want to hear about how you feel, or how you’re feeling, OK? I want to hear about what you have done to improve your game. Data. List everything you have tried, everything you have done to improve your game.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent.

If you play a bad game, you can always say, “It’s just one game.” But if you play a bad practice, you are saying, “I’m a bad player.”

Practice is everything.

For example, yesterday I was at practice, I tried practicing a few things that didn’t work, I tried things that I’m good at, but a couple things, they just didn’t feel right, so I stopped and I asked myself, “What can I do better at? What can I change?” “What can I do to make it better?”

Winners have a short memory.

They forget the bad and remember the good. They ultimately make their own luck.